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NamesCon names con speakers

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2019, Domain Services

With NamesCon’s swansong Las Vegas show just a few weeks away, its agenda and speaker list is well on the way to being finalized.

Organizers recently announced Bhavin Turakhia, Haseeb Tariq and Richard Lau as speakers.

Turakhia, founder of Radix and several registrars, is perhaps best-known for selling Media.net for $900 million and for being one of India’s richest entrepreneurs. His Monday keynote has the tagline “Insights and Inspiration”.

Tariq recently join Fox, but his bread-and-butter has been founding and selling tech startups and high-end domain names. He’s speaking on portfolio pricing strategies.

Overall, the agenda seems to be heavy on speakers from .GLOBAL and affiliated business intelligence service provider RegistryOffice, which are sponsoring the conference.

I won’t be attending, sadly, this year, but these other sessions caught my eye on the agenda:

  • Akram Atallah is part of a panel discussion on data analysis on Tuesday. I believe it’s his first speaking engagement since leaving ICANN’s top brass to become Donuts CEO in mid-November. He’s outnumbered by the .GLOBAL/RegistryOffice posse, so if he has anything interesting to say it may be lost in the sales pitches. Turakhia is also on the panel.
  • Andrew Allemann (Domain Name Wire), Elliot Noss (Tucows) and Zak Muscovitch (Internet Commerce Association) are spending an hour discussing the forthcoming .com price increases after lunch on Tuesday. With no Verisign rep on stage, I’m not sure how balanced the discussion will be, but all three men are engaging speakers and the session may be worth a look.
  • Sessions on emerging technologies include a discussion of Domain Connect with speakers from GoDaddy, WP Engine and Microsoft, and a solo talk on the intersection of blockchain and DNS fromm MMX CEO Toby Hall.
  • Allemann is also hosting a yet-to-be-announced panel of domainers who chose to invest in new gTLDs, entitled “What Were They Thinking?” which may be worth a look-see.

NamesCon runs from Sunday January 26 to Wednesday January 30. Standard ticket prices are $999 or $1,349 for the VIP treatment, though I believe discounts are still available for pre-orders.

It’s the conference’s final year at the cheap-and-cheerful Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. The organization announced last year that NamesCon Global, its annual North American event, would be moving cities.

While many regular attendees seem to think somewhere warm would be preferable — Florida or California, perhaps — I’ve also heard whispers that a Canadian relocation has not been ruled out.

Canada. In January. Time to buy shares in manufacturers of tuques, perhaps?

Radix now has China approval for whole TLD stable

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2019, Domain Services

Radix’s entire portfolio of new gTLDs is now approved for sale and use in China, according to the company.

The company said today that .host, .press, .space and .website recently received the nod from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, which regulates the domain name space in China.

.fun, .site, .online, .tech and .store have all previously received approval.

Across the three-million-domain portfolio, over 700,000 are registered in China, according to Radix.

It saw growth in China over over 30% in 2018 in terms of new domain adds, the company said in a press release.

CEO Sandeep Ramchandani said that Radix has partnered with local registrar Xinnet to give free domains to university students to “host their academic projects and business prototypes.”

The most-read stories of 2018

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2019, Domain Services

Happy 2019!

As we crawl, dark-eyed and slurring, from our festive hibernation, I thought now would be a good time to do a quick reminder of 2018, in the form of a top-10 list of the most-read stories published by DI over the last 12 months.

If not today, then when?

I’ve excluded, as usual, articles that seem to show up prominently in my traffic logs every single day simply because Google seems to think they’ve got porn in them.

Stéphane Van Gelder dies after motorcycle accident

Stéphane Van Gelder was a registrar industry pioneer and long-time ICANN community leader, and his untimely death in a vehicle accident in March came as a great shock to many. The fact that this post was the most-read of the year is not surprising. He is missed by many, and was subsequently posthumously awarded ICANN’s Multistakeholder Ethos Award.

Has the world’s biggest new gTLD registry gone bankrupt?

This speculative post from June came about after I discovered that a court-appointed administrator had taken over ownership of all TLDs in the Famous Four Media portfolio. It later turned out that FFM had in fact been removed by investors in true portfolio owner Domain Venture Partners, which created a new company, GRS Domains, to take over. The full details of this evidently bitter boardroom fight have yet to emerge.

Donuts freezes .place gTLD ahead of new geofencing rules

Perhaps a surprising entry on the list, this story detailed how Donuts had essentially taken .place off the market in preparation for a planned repurposing of the gTLD to tie into the emerging “geofencing” infrastructure. The freeze happened in May, and as far as I can tell .place is still in limbo as the technology back-end is finalized, which may account for this post’s popularity.

ICANN number two Atallah is new CEO of Donuts

Not long after Donuts was acquired by a private equity fund partly controlled by former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, I received a tip-off that his former number two, Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah, had been headhunted to be the registry’s new CEO. It was officially confirmed a few hours later, but not before the unwashed hordes (that’s you) had given the DI server something to think about. The perception of a revolving door between ICANN and industry raised eyebrows, including from the US government.

Google’s .app gTLD beats .porn to biggest sunrise yet

Google’s eagerly anticipated .app gTLD hit the market mid-year, and got off to a strong start with a sunrise period beaten only by defensive-heavy .porn. It’s very likely the strongest sunrise period of the 2012 round so far. The TLD has something like 350,000 domains under management today, which for new gTLDs is pretty much a success story.

GoDaddy and DomainTools scrap over Whois access

This story about GoDaddy and DomainTools fighting about whether the latter could get unmitigated access to the former’s Whois database was published in January, long before the full impact of GDPR on Whois privacy was known, and therefore now, with the benefit of hindsight, feels hopelessly naive.

How all 33 European ccTLDs are handling GDPR

Good grief, did I write a “listicle”? To mark the day GDPR came into full effect, I trawled through the web sites, news releases and policy documents of 33 European ccTLDs to see how each registry was planning to comply with the strict new privacy legislation, so you didn’t have to. The results were surprisingly diverse.

Google’s $25 million .app domain finally has a launch date

Remember how I said .app was “eagerly anticipated”? The fact that this post, merely noting the TLD’s launch timetable, hit the top 10 most-read stories for the year is perhaps proof of that.

Facebook clashes with registrars after massive private data request

Many big brands were unhappy with how ICANN and the industry turned off their unfettered Whois access following GDPR, none more so than Facebook, which has been piling pressure on ICANN to force registrars to acquiesce to its data requests. This July story revealed how it had started using a close intermediary called AppDetex to bombard registrars with over-broad disclosure requests. Registrars subsequently fought back, and AppDetex later gave me a demo of its early-stage software. The fight, no doubt, continues.

These 33 people will decide the future of Whois

Another GDPR listicle? In this July post I prepared brief bios of the volunteers selected to work on ICANN’s first Expedited Policy Development Process working group, which is challenged with coming up with a permanent policy solution to GDPR, amenable to all sections of the community. Needless to say, they’re still working on it…

That’s the top 10 most-read articles on DI in 2018. Honorable mentions go to Fight breaks out as Afilias eats Neustar’s Aussie baby, How a single Whois complaint got this registrar shitcanned and Some men at ICANN meetings really are assholes, simply because I like the headlines.

Happy new year to all DI readers. I don’t tell you this nearly regularly enough, but I really do love you all more than words could possibly describe.

Another bundle of joy for XYZ as Johnson & Johnson throws out the .baby

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2018, Domain Services

XYZ.com seems to have acquired the .baby gTLD from Johnson & Johnson.

ICANN records show that the .baby registry contract was assigned to the growing portfolio registry November 19.

The news, which has yet to be announced by buyer or seller, arrives four years after J&J paid $3,088,888 for .baby at an ICANN last-resort auction, beating off five other applicants.

.baby is not what you’d call a roaring success. It has about 600 domains under management after almost two years of general availability.

It typically retails for about $80.

While the plan for .baby was to keep it quite tightly controlled, with J&J giving itself broad rights to refuse registration of any domain that did not appear to fit within its family-friendly mission, it does not seem that regime was strictly enforced.

Explain realdonaldtrump.baby

I would expect XYZ, with its come-all attitude to domains, to be even more relaxed about the namespace.

IANA records show that the gTLD under J&J was (and still is) managed by FairWinds, with a Neustar back-end. Neither are typical partners for XYZ, which tends to use CentralNic.

I think this makes it 12 gTLDs for the XYZ stable, including those it runs in partnership. It has 10 listed on its web site and it picked up former dot-brand .monster from Monster.com a couple months back.

J&J also owns the dot-brand .jnj, which has about 100 domains in its zone but no publicly facing web sites to speak of.

Now even parked domains will have GDPR notices

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2018, Domain Services

Sedo will soon start showing privacy notices and cookie warnings on parked domains using its service.

The company told users today that it has updated its terms of service to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. It said:

As a domain owner parking your domains on Sedo’s platform, within the scope of tracking website visitors to monetize your domain(s), Sedo collects and processes personal data on your behalf. The GDPR requires, among other things, that the person responsible, in this case you, the domain owner, display a data protection declaration and a cookie on your parked page. 

Sedo said this is a “complimentary feature”, but that it makes no assurances that the notices it displays on its users’ behalf are actually compliant with the regulation.

The terms have been changed such that the user agrees to be “solely responsible” for their own GDPR compliance. 

Users have two weeks to object to the changes, but if they do it seems Sedo will terminate their service.

The changes come into effect January 1.

ICANN budget predicts small new gTLD recovery and slowing legacy growth

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2018, Domain Services

The new gTLD market will improve very slightly over the next year or so, according to ICANN’s latest budget predictions.

The organization is now forecasting that it will see $5.2 million of funding from new gTLD registry transaction fees in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, up from the $5.1 million it predicted when it past the FY19 budget in May.

That’s based on expected transactions being 24 million, compared to the previous estimate of 23.9 million.

It’s the first time ICANN has revised its new gTLD transaction revenue estimates upwards in a couple years.

ICANN is also now estimating that FY20 transaction fees from new gTLDs will come in at $5.5 million.

That’s still a few hundred grand less than it was predicting for FY17, back in 2016.

Transaction fees, typically $0.25, are paid by registries with over 50,000 names whenever a domain is created, renewed, or transferred.

The FY19 forecast for new gTLD registrar transaction fees has not been changed from the $4.3 million predicted back in May, but ICANN expects it to increase to $4.6 million in FY20.

ICANN’s budget forecasts are based on activity it’s seeing and conversations with the industry.

It’s previously had to revise new gTLD revenue predictions down in May 2018 and January 2018. 

ICANN is also predicting a bounceback in the number of accredited registrars, an increase of 15 per quarter in FY20 to end the year at 2,564. That would see accreditation fees increase from an estimated $9.9 million to $10.7 million.

The budget is also less than optimistic when it comes to legacy, pre-2012 gTLDs, which includes the likes of .com and .net.

ICANN is now predicting FY19 legacy transaction fees of $49.8 million. That’s compared to its May estimate of $48.6 million.

For FY20, it expects that to go up to $50.5 million, reflecting growth of 2.1%, lower than the 2.6% it predicted last year.

Overall, ICANN expects its funding for FY19 to be $137.1 million, $600,000 less than it was predicting in May.

For FY20, it expects funding to increase to $140.1 million. That’s still lower than the $143 million ICANN had in mind for FY18, before its belt-tightening initiatives kicked off a year ago.

The budget documents are published here for public comment until February 8.

ICANN will also hold a public webinar today at 1700 UTC to discuss the plans. Details of the Adobe Connect room can be found here.

Verisign says Afilias tried to “rig” $135 million .web auction

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2018, Domain Services

Verisign has jumped back into the fight for the .web gTLD, all guns blazing, with a claim that Afilias offered millions in an attempt to “rig” a private auction for the string.

The .com behemoth accused Afilias last week of “collusive and anti-competitive efforts to rig the [.web] auction in its favor”.

It claims that Afilias offered rival bidder — and secret Verisign stooge — Nu Dot Co up to $17 million if it would participate in a private auction, and then tried to contact NDC during the auction’s “Blackout Period”.

The claims came in an amicus brief (pdf) filed by Verisign as part of Afilias’ Independent Review Process proceeding against ICANN.

The IRP is Afilias’ attempt to overturn the result of the July 2016 .web auction, in which NDC paid ICANN $135 million of Verisign’s money in exchange for the exclusive rights to .web

While neither Verisign nor NDC are parties to the IRP, they’re both attempting to become amicus curiae — “friends of the court” — giving them the right to provide evidence and arguments to the IRP panel.

Verisign argues that its rights would be seriously impacted by the proceeding — Afilias is looking for an emergency ruling preventing .web being delegated — because it won’t be able to bring .web to market.

But it’s also attempting to have the IRP thrown out altogether, on the basis of claims that Afilias broke the auction rules and has “unclean hands”.

Verisign’s brief states:

Afilias and other bidders proposed that a private auction be performed pursuant to collusive and potentially illegal terms about who could win and who would lose the auction, including guarantees of auction proceeds to certain losers of the auction.

NDC CFO Jose Rasco provides as evidence screenshots (pdf) of a text-message conversation he had with Afilias VP of sales Steve Heflin on June 7, 2016, in which Heflin attempts to persuade NDC to go to a private auction.

Every other member of the contention set at that point had agreed to a private auction, in which the winning bid would be shared out among the losers.

NDC was refusing to play along, because it had long ago secretly agreed to bid on behalf of Verisign, and was forcing a last-resort ICANN auction in which ICANN would receive the full sum of the winning bid. 

In that SMS conversation, Heflin says: “Can’t give up…how about I guarantee you score at least 16 mil if you go to private auction and lose?” followed by three money-bag emojis that I refuse to quote here on general principle.

Rasco responds with an offer to sell Afilias the .health gTLD, then just weeks away from launch, for $25 million.

Heflin ignores the offer and ups his .web offer to $17.02 million.

Given that it was a contention set of seven applicants, that suggests Afilias reckoned .web was going to sell for at least $100 million.

Verisign claims: “Afilias’s offers to ‘guarantee’ the amount of a payment to NDC as a losing bidder are an explicit offer to pay off NDC to not compete with Afilias in bidding on .web.”

Rasco also provides evidence that Schlund, another .web applicant, attempted to persuade NDC to join what it called an “Alternative Private Auction”.

This process would have divided bidders into “strong” and “weak” categories, with “strong” losing bidders walking away with a greater portion of the winning bid than the “weak” ones.

Verisign and NDC also claims that Afilias broke ICANN’s auction rules when VP John Kane texted Rasco to say: “If ICANN delays the auction next week would you again consider a private auction?”

That text was received July 22, four days before the auction and one day into the so-called “Blackout Period”, during which ICANN auction rules (pdf)  prohibit bidders from “cooperating or collaborating” with each other.

At that time, .web applicants Schlund and Radix already suspected Verisign was bankrolling NDC, and they were trying to get the auction delayed.

According to Verisign, Kane’s text means Afilias violated the Blackout rules and therefore it should lose its .web application entirely.  

The fact that these rules proscribe “collaborating” during the Blackout suggests that collaborating at other times was actually envisaged, which in turn suggests that Heflin’s texts may not be as naughty as Verisign claims.

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say the gloves, were they ever on, have come off.

Weighing in at over 1,000 pages, the combined amicus briefs and attached exhibits reveal some interesting additional facts that I don’t believe were in the public domain before now and may be worth noting here.

The Verisign filing reveals, I believe for the first time, that the final Verisign bid for .web was $142 million. It only paid $135 million because that was runner-up Afilias’ final bid.

It also reveals that Verisign and NDC signed their “executory agreement” — basically, NDC’s promise to sign over .web if Verisign bankrolled its bid — in August 2015, nearly a year before the auction took place. NDC evidently kept its secret for a long time before rivals got suspicious.

The IRP panelist is scheduled to rule on Afilias’ request for a “stay of all ICANN actions that further the delegation of the .WEB gTLD” on January 28.

Exclusive gang of 10 to work on making ICANN the Whois gatekeeper

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2018, Domain Services

Ten people have been picked to work on a system that would see ICANN act as the gatekeeper for private Whois data.

The organization today announced the composition of what it’s calling the Technical Study Group on Access to Non-Public Registration Data, or TSG-RD.

As the name suggests, the group is tasked with designing a system that would see ICANN act as a centralized access point for Whois data that, in the GDPR era, is otherwise redacted from public view.

ICANN said such a system:

would place ICANN in the position of determining whether a third-party’s query for non-public registration data ought to be approved to proceed. If approved, ICANN would ask the appropriate registry or registrar to provide the requested data to ICANN, which in turn would provide it to the third party. If ICANN does not approve the request, the query would be denied. 

There’s no current ICANN policy saying that the organization should take on this role, but it’s one possible output of the current Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois, which is focusing on how to bring ICANN policy into compliance with GDPR.

The new group is not going to make the rules governing who can access private Whois data, it’s just to create the technical framework, using RDAP, that could be used to implement such rules.

The idea has been discussed for several months now, with varying degrees of support from contracted parties and the intellectual property community.

Registries and registrars have cautiously welcomed the notion of a central ICANN gateway for Whois data, because they think it might make ICANN the sole “data controller” under GDPR, reducing their own legal liability.

IP interests of course leap to support any idea that they think will give them access to data GDPR has denied them.

The new group, which is not a formal policy-making body in the usual ICANN framework, was hand-picked by Afilias CTO Ram Mohan, at the request of ICANN CEO Goran Marby.

As it’s a technical group, the IP crowd and other stakeholders don’t get a look-in. It’s geeks all the way down. Eight of the 10 are based in North America, the other two in the UK. All are male. A non-zero quantity of them have beards.

  • Benedict Addis, Registrar Of Last Resort.
  • Gavin Brown, CentralNic.
  • Jorge Cano, NIC Mexico.
  • Steve Crocker, former ICANN chair.
  • Scott Hollenbeck, Verisign.
  • Jody Kolker, GoDaddy.
  • Murray Kucherawy, Facebook.
  • Andy Newton, ARIN.
  • Tomofumi Okubo, DigiCert.

While the group is not open to all-comers, it’s not going to be secretive either. Its mailing list is available for public perusal here, and its archived teleconferences, which are due to happen for an hour every Tuesday, can be found here. The first meeting happened this week.

Unlike regular ICANN work, the new group hopes to get its work wrapped up fairly quickly, perhaps even producing an initial spec at the ICANN 64 meeting in Kobe, Japan, next March.

For ICANN, that’s Ludicrous Speed.

Governments blast ICANN over Amazon gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2018, Domain Services

ICANN seems to have found itself in the center of a diplomatic crisis, after eight South American governments strongly denied they approve of Amazon being given the .amazon gTLD.

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, along with the government of Brazil, blasted ICANN CEO Goran Marby for multiple alleged “untrue, misleading, unfortunate and biased statements”, in a December 7 letter  (pdf) published yesterday.

ACTO claims that ICANN was “premature” and “ill-informed” when its board of directors un-rejected Amazon’s gTLD applications in an October resolution.

In bruising terms, the letter goes on to criticize Marby for failing to set up promised talks between ACTO and Amazon and then characterizing “informal” conversations with Brazil’s Governmental Advisory Committee rep as if they represented ACTO’s collective view.

It’s just about as harsh a critique of ICANN management by governments I’ve read.

Amazon, the retailer, has been trying to get .amazon, along with transliterations in Chinese and Japanese scripts, since 2012.

Its applications were rejected — technically, placed in “Will Not Proceed” status — after GAC advice in July 2013. The advice was full-consensus, the strongest type, after the lone holdout, the United States, at the time trying to win support for the IANA transition, bowed out.

The advice came because the ACTO countries believe “Amazon” is a geographic string that belongs to them.

But Amazon filed an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, which it won last year.

The IRP panel declared that the GAC advice was built on shaky, opaque foundations and that the committee should not have a blanket “veto” over new gTLD applications.

ICANN has ever since been trying to figure out a way to comply with the IRP ruling while at the same time appeasing the GAC and the ACTO countries.

The GAC gave it a little wriggle room a year ago when it issued advice that ICANN should “continue facilitating negotiations between the [ACTO] member states and the Amazon corporation”.

ICANN took this to mean that its earlier advice to reject the bids had been superseded, and set about trying to get Amazon and ACTO to come to an agreement.

Amazon, for its part, has offered ACTO nations a suite of cultural protections, an offer to support future applications for .amazonia or similar, and $5 million worth of products and services, including free Kindle devices.

It has also offered to bake a collection of Public Interest Commitments — these have never been published — into its registry contract, which would enable ACTO governments to bring compliance actions against the company in future. 

That proposal was made in February, and ICANN has supposed to have been facilitating talks ever since.

According to a timeline provided by Marby, in a November letter (pdf) to ACTO secretary general Jacqueline Mendoza, ICANN has been working in this facilitation role since November 2017.

Problem is, at almost every step of the way it’s been dealing with Brazilian GAC rep Benedicto Filho, rather than with Mendoza herself, apparently on the assumption that when he made noises favorable to the Amazon proposal he was speaking for ACTO. 

And that’s not the case, according to Mendoza and Filho, in the newly published letters.

Whatever input Filho had was in the context of “informal and general conversations in which it was repeatedly and clearly indicated that no country had any mandate to negotiate on behalf of the other members of ACTO”, Mendoza wrote.

Filho himself goes on to accuse Marby of several “gross misrepresentation[s]” and “flagrant inaccuracies”, in an increasingly strident set of three emails forward by Mendoza to Marby.

He claims that he informed Marby every step of the way that he was not authorized to speak on behalf of ACTO, and that the idea he was involved in “obscure and secret negotiations” is “offensive”.

It seems that either one or both men is bullshitting about the extent to which Filho represented himself as an ACTO rep, or there has been a genuine breakdown of communication. For want of any definitive evidence, it seems fair to give them both the benefit of the doubt for now.

The situation as it stands now is that ACTO has called off planned peace talks with Amazon, facilitated by Marby, and has filed a Request for Reconsideration in an attempt to overturn the ICANN board’s October resolution.

Mendoza says ACTO will not engage in talks concerning .amazon until this request has been processed. 

So the fate of .amazon now lies with ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is responsible for rejecting processing reconsideration requests. The test is usually whether the requester has brought new information to light that was not available when the board made its decision.

BAMC can either figure out a way to accept the request and put .amazon back in its “Will Not Proceed” status, smoothing out the path to negotiations (re)opening but placing Amazon back in indefinite limbo, or it can reject it and risk ACTO walking away completely.

It’s a tricky spot to be in, and no mistake.

No more free transfers in Denmark

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2018, Domain Services

The Danish ccTLD registry has announced that it is to introduce a charge for .dk transfers for the first time in January.

From the start of 2019, transfers between registrants will cost DKK 50 (about $7.50), DK Hostmaster said today.

Currently, transfers are free.

It appears that the new fee will be levied on the gaining registrant.

DK Hostmaster said that the fee is to cover “administrative costs”.

.dk has about 1.3 million domains under management.